Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.
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This week's question comes from Kathy Garland of Basking Ridge, NJ.
Answer: Mim Pollock, business representative for the theatrical division of Local 306 of IATSE — which represents ushers, head ushers, ticket-takers and backstage door people — says that the process is similar to that at any other job. Each of the three major companies that control Broadway theatres — Shubert, Nederlander and Jujamcyn — have certain people responsible for hiring ushers. Each company accepts applications — either a specific usher application or just a cover letter and resume, depending on the company — and if they like your application, they bring you in for an interview and can eventually decide to hire you.
Typically, if you're hired, you start off as a substitute usher, filling in at any of the company's theatres when other ushers can't make it. Some weeks you'll do eight shows, some weeks fewer than that, and some weeks zero. Usually, a sub finds out about his or her assignments at the beginning of every week. "Monday morning, very often, the phones are very busy," Pollock says. "That's where most of the filling in of all the work is done."
Eventually, when a full-time ushering spot becomes available, a sub will get offered the job. Full-time ushers can move up to become ticket-takers, who make more money and in some cases have had their jobs for decades.
Each night, half the ushers can leave after 20 minutes, and the other half stay late to clear the house at the end of the show (the next night, the two groups switch). And no matter what kind of usher you are — sub or full-time — after 30 performances, you have to join the union.
Jeff Hubbard, a management associate at Jujamcyn in charge of hiring ushers, says the company has about 65 full-time ushers for its five theatres, and the number of subs is much more than that. In the last four months, three full-time ushering spots have turned over. Hubbard notes that the three biggest groups in his ushering pool are students, actors and retirees.
When is a company hiring subs? It depends on the company's needs and the time of year. Hubbard says that he posted an ad on Playbill.com at the beginning of the summer, since many of his existing substitute ushers were students who went away for the summer. He ended up hiring about 15 to 20 ushers. So he's not in dire need at the moment — but he still accepts cover letters and resumes. "We're always hiring," he says.
Manhattan Theatre Club and Roundabout, two of the not-for-profit companies who control Broadway theatres, use some volunteer ushers (in addition to paid ushers), who do it to get to see a show for free (Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont has all paid ushers). Many Off-Broadway theatres use volunteers as well. The vetting process for volunteer ushers is more lax — pretty much anyone can sign up if there's space available and if they can abide by the theatre's requisite dress code.
To get more details on how to apply, you can contact the theatre companies for specific instructions.